Spring Is A Critical Time For Roses

A few warm days in March and early April and our rose-hungry souls hurry over anxious hands to the clippers.

Out we go to start pruning, which will create new growth. Or perhaps we cannot wait to uncover those roses and get that tiresome work out of the way.

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Two Things To Do To Succeed With Roses

These two things (1 — too early pruning and 2 — too early uncovering) have caused more loss in our rose garden than anything I can think of. Success with your roses this year depends on what you do now.

I remember one year that we had decided that this time for sure, we were going to have an early spring. Even the bushes themselves seemed to tell us so, for they were leafing out under the mound of soil.

My wife and I spent the whole day unmounting the hybrid teas and hauling the soil back to the garden.

All our muscles were talking back to us, but the spring urge was still with us, so we dashed out to a greenhouse to buy some pansies that Bea wanted for her border bed.

Before we returned, it had started to turn cold, and the radio warned us that we were in for a hard freeze that evening. We were well overworked by the time the 350 roses had been refilled.

Wasn’t an Irishman who said, “It wasn’t the falling that hurt, but the stopping so quick”? Just so with vegetation in winter.

It is not so much the freezing as the sudden thawing expands and contracts the cells in the stems or canes, causing them to crush one another.

This is what destroys more roses than anything else. In short, winter protection is significant to prevent the rapid change of the temperature in the canes of the bushes.

Damage during winter is, in a great majority of cases, caused by bright sunshine and perhaps high winds following a brutal freeze.

If your roses haven’t started to leaf out, some prefer to give the bushes a dormant spray of liquid lime sulfur. This helps to destroy the insects and diseases that might have survived the last few months.

Related: Roses’ Winter Protection

When To Prune, And How To Do It

Delay pruning until all signs of a freeze have passed, as heavy pruning forces the plant to grow faster.

Your schedule is not tied to the calendar. It depends on when the rose shoots begin to grow, usually in the last part of April.

When pruning roses, use a sharp knife or shears to prevent tearing the canes.

To prune hybrid teas, remove all broken and winter-injured wood with all surplus canes that tend to overcrowd the bush.

Remove all but three or four good solid and sturdy clubs, thinning out all the spindly twigs.

Cut back to the greenwood (this may mean to the ground in the northern area) or to 8” to 12” inches high, depending on your desires, but only cut back to the ground if the wood is dead.

Prune to a bud pointing outward, as this helps to make the plant bushier and leaves the center open for better air circulation.

If your plants are in a bed, prune the outer bushes an inch or so lower than the canter plants, giving a better overall effect. Also, it makes it easier to cultivate and fertilize the bed.

In pruning floribundas, it’s better to prune at least 12” to 18” inches, thinning out as in the hybrid teas.

The new Grandiflora class can be pruned to suit your wishes. They will grow from 4’ to 7’ feet tall in a season, and we generally prune ours to 2’ feet.

Everblooming climbers, shrubs, and old-fashioned roses require little pruning other than to shape the bush and remove the dead canes.

With the other types of climbers, it is best not to prune any of the bushes until after the climber has bloomed.

The old canes may be removed and the plant shaped. The dead canes should be cut out as soon as possible. 

Tree roses can be uncovered as soon as all signs of freezing weather have passed. Then prune them just as you would a hybrid tea, cutting the canes back from 8” to 12” inches and removing all branches but three or four solid, sturdy canes. 

It’s advisable to paint the ends of all the branches that have been cut with some suitable wound compound to protect them from stem borers.

When To Uncover

Removing the winter protection can be accomplished simultaneously after the pruning is done. 

Remove the soil on a cloudy day, careful not to damage the new shoots. Only remove dirt that has been used to the hill, thus exposing the feeder roots of the roses, which are pretty frequently next to the ground’s surface.

One necessary precaution is to be sure that the top of the soil is well-cleaned and free from leaves, branches, chickweed, and bunches of clover.

If you had any blackspot or mildew last year, it is a good idea to cover the ground and the bush with an all-purpose spray or dust. 

Fertilizer Application

The first application of fertilizer is made on this clean surface. This should be rather heavy as roses are hungry plants at this time after having been dormant all winter.

We recommend one and a half handfuls of an excellent commercial fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 4-12-4.

Spread this evenly around and under the bush. Do not let the fertilizer touch the brush. If it does, wash it off immediately.

If the ground is dry enough to work, the plants should be cultivated very lightly, not more than an inch below the surface.

This helps to put the fertilizer down where the roots are waiting. The feeding should be accomplished once a month until September.

If you have not had the usual amount of rain at this time, it is a good idea to use the hose to give the plants a deep soaking.

Roses are heavy drinkers and require what equivalent to an inch of rain a week is, so if your roses need to receive the proper amount of moisture, give them an added drink of water. 

About Mulching

A somewhat controversial subject is whether to mulch now or wait until June. Since the seasons have changed, bringing less rain over the last several years, I recommend using heavy mulch as soon as possible. What kind to use is another good subject for discussion.

If you have access to well-rotted manure, that is undoubtedly the best mulch. We prefer to use commercial waste as it has been treated, and all the weed seeds have been killed.

Peat moss, ground corn cobs, buckwheat hulls, and a new one of ground walnut shells are all good mulches.

Having been cared for like this, your roses should win a ribbon at the spring rose show and produce a beautiful plant that blooms all summer long—if you stick to a regular feeding schedule, watering, and dusting or spraying.

44659 by Lester Satterlee